thumbnail of Focus 580; America Behind the Color Line: Dialogues With African Americans
Hide -
If this transcript has significant errors that should be corrected, let us know, so we can add it to FIX IT+
In this part of focus 580 we'll be speaking with Henry Louis Gates Jr. He is chair of Harvard's African and African-American studies department. He is the author of a new book that's just out now. That is a companion to a series that will be running on public television. And we will be running the show next month February 3rd and 4th. It's the product of a series of interviews that he conducted with African-Americans across the country and in different walks of life. And the book that we're talking about here this morning America behind the color line takes those interviews and puts them in a kind of an essay form almost as if that person was sitting down and just talking to you very directly about those same sorts of issues. It's published by Warner Books. And is out now in bookstores if you like to take a look at it also of the PBS series will air on our television station wy L.L. TV on February 3rd and 4th. Those two nights between 8:00 and 10:00.
And if you are no matter where you're listening if there's a public station near you I imagine they will also be running the show and you can check local listings for the time he is traveling and spend some time traveling around. The country talking about the book he's in Chicago and will talk with us this morning and of course as always questions and comments are welcome. We always offer that opportunity the only thing we ask of callers is that people just try to be brief so that we can get in as many different people as possible and keep the program moving along but of course anyone who is watching or watching anybody who is listening I guess I'm in TV of oh there anybody is listening is welcome to call him the number if you're here in Champagne Urbana where we are. 3 3 3 9 4 5 5. We do also have a toll free line. That one is good anywhere that you can hear us. The number is 800 to 2 2 9 4 5 5 0 3 3 3 wy allowed
and toll free 800 to 2 2 W while Professor Gates. Hello good morning. Thank you very much for talking with us. Oh it's my pleasure. Man it's cold out here. Yeah it's a little brisk here but that's you know it's January and it's the Midwest. Yeah and that's that's what we're up suffering from this. In Chicago but it's great to be on your program. Well we really appreciate you giving us some of your time. Maybe you might want to talk a little bit about how it is this project this interview project that led to both a PBS documentary and also the book its companion how that project got started. Well 19:00 W E B Dubois the greatest black intellectual Waldheim wrote famously that the problem of the 20th century would be the problem of the color line. So the beginning of the 21st century I wanted to ask and attempt to answer that question as well but I didn't want to do it like the lordly do but just to sit down at my desk and make the pronouncement. I wanted to go around the country
interviewing a wide cross-section of the African-American community. The rich and famous and powerful and most successful members of the community and often the powerless the AMA's those who live in despair. The anonymous and sometimes the infamous I went to the county jail here in Chicago and interviewed prisoners and child dealers extra dealers extra dealers who most probably seemed to be drug dealers again I think that had a powerful. Mothers and grandmothers living together who were not married in the Robert Taylor Homes the infamous Robert Taylor Homes really synonymous with all that was wrong with public housing and I was lucky enough to have BBC BBC 2 and PBS and the series and I travelled around with a film crew and three daughters of film series now. The book came about in a curious way. I was contracted to do a companion book which would have been essentially my
analysis of what I saw. But the interviews were so rich. You know as well as I do but I don't know if I listeners do that if you you know I go for an interview. Interview let's say Colin Powell I interviewed him. You might spend an hour with him pal but only two minutes in a 50 minute 55 minute film. Yeah so what about all that good footage and all that marvelous content and I realized that what I could do was to transcribe it in a few years and then turn those interviews into FAA and so I could share disks but I had a great opinion with readers who wouldn't have wouldn't be privy to it in any other way and the result is America behind the color line in fact I wanted to create the effect that of ever hearing a conversation between two black people say at a barbershop or in a beauty parlor or in our living rooms with no outsiders around there's a kind of cultural intimacy that leads to
a level of openness and honesty which we often don't share with the broader American public when we're outside of our culture. Yeah and that's the effect that I'd like to think I'd keep in the film series and in the book. Well that's it. I think you do. You make that its important point you make that that this idea that maybe there are things that when when black people get together and talk with one another that they say that they would not say in front of a more mixed kind of in for the mixed company. And so I guess that then a really basic question might be well for those people who are not African-American whatever whatever their heritage is everybody else. And what is it that you would like them to know about what is most important to black Americans as they think about who they are and maybe what they're they're not yet but could be. Well I want the viewers of the film series and the readers of the book.
Right. Yeah. I'm brown a kind of a website with the following observations which was consistent throughout the interviews for the African-American community 35 years after the terrible death of Dr. King. It's the best of times it's the worst of times of the middle class has almost quadrupled since April 1968 largely because of affirmative action. But the black underclass as major measured by one key index and that is the percentage of black children who live at or beneath the poverty line the black poverty rate measured that way. It's almost 30 percent out of 10 black kids live at or beneath the poverty line. That's the percentage it was the day Dr. King was killed. It is a paradoxical result everyone waited in during the civil rights era thought that my God if the black middle class quadrupled in size black poverty would go down proportionately to black poverty remain the same. Well some of it made it. In other words most about have not. So that remember the famous trying to.
Commission Report 968 following the breaking riots It concluded that there were two nations in America one black one white. At the beginning of the 21st century we can conclude that there are two nations within the African-American community. The small too small but little of but growing the community. Defined by the black middle class and the much larger black underclass. And this book is meant as a wake up call both to America and to middle class black Americans and underclass black Americans saying you know we have to take control of our fate. We have to change a situation. If we don't do something drastic now both internally as black people you know. Community and externally meaning through the federal government and corporations and job programs and the classified within the black community will be prominent and disproportionately prominent and never the twain between these two classes.
Sammy I do think it's interesting that it emerges so strongly that I think African-Americans would would want all Americans to recognize the point that this is the role that their participation in initially unwilling in the building of how important their very fiber was in the building of the country. And that also that they I think they would make this argument that says denying them economic opportunity today is not only not only does that hold back African-Americans but it's it cripples all of America because you're saying to the effect you're saying to those people well we're not going to let you participate in when you do that not you affect them but you affect everyone. Well it's so true. Jesse Jackson is very eloquent in the book and on the film and he talks about a 300 year tax subsidy a 300 year subsidy in effect that free African labor gave to the building of the United States. That's remarkable I mean it's a devastating fact but it's true.
You know the country could have become prosperous without this. It's free or at least cheap inexpensive source of labor that. Why not forget that most of us don't think about that. Your second point was best addressed by the philanthropist Daniel Rose who started to spread that program at middle school in Harlem which integrates the teaching of chats into the curriculum. He took over the school which led to scores in New York City and now has the best test scores in New York City because all the kids come in learn chess and somehow it hasn't had a magical to me transforming effect on the kids. Attitudes were banned was banned and funded this program said to me it costs $50000 a year to house a prisoner say to Cook County Jail. We need and I recall $35000 a cardboard cutout of President to send a
child to Harvard. We need to turn he said $50000 a year tax eaters into $60000 a year taxpayers it into not only the most correct thing to do to reach in and save the people in the inner city. It is the politically responsible thing to do. If we can do that our society as a whole will be much better off. Another person aspect of this book is that it points fingers but outside and inside that community and what I mean by that. We know that the causes of poverty in the inner. City are both structural and historical but they're also both internal They are behavioral. So what I mean. It means that you can explain to people for three hundred years that followed by a century of de jure segregation and it not have an effect and 35 years of affirmative action it's not wiped out. Three hundred years have economic exploitation no one could say that with a straight face but we made it we made a beginning but we don't need to curtail affirmative action yet
we need from a faction not less affirmative action we need a federal jobs program to give people hope again in the economic system flipping burgers at McDonald's is not a viable option for a family of four that is not something that's going to encourage people to stay in school. We need great reform. Schools are like this. I mean schools are fights of violence and chaos. I could've learned in that environment and so many of our inner city schools we have to change the tax base allocation per student the amount of money spent per student in a dinner city schools should be exactly the same as amount of money spent in the the wealthiest suburb per student that's not of course the way it is right now. We need a Marshall Plan for us. He's at the National Urban League call for every year we can rebuild Iraq which remains to be saying quite frankly. We certainly can rebuild our inner city but at the same time we need and a revolution a revolution in attitudes within the black community. The average age of a grandmother and Robert Taylor
Homes a few years ago was in the mid 30s. I think about them and I mean 16 year old girls are having babies and have been in multiple generations be on our IT any given point in Chicago where right now the black males between the ages of 20 and 25 35 percent about out of work and out of school most of provider didn't graduate or don't have functional literacy. And in any given week in Chicago only 35 percent of the black community is working in the adult population. Less than 5 out of 10 people. And a meaningful job. Now many of these attitudes are like the worst nightmare of the Martin Luther King in the civil rights movement. It just wasn't over fibers had sat down in 1960 and said how can we control black people without looking like we're controlling black people. They only had to do was say well well Kerry shouldn't have babies when are teens to drop out of school to think that education is quote
unquote right. And something that's not authentically black to engage in gang violence to bad drugs use drugs et cetera et cetera et cetera. So what I'm saying is we cannot wait for Abraham Lincoln to come galloping down our inner city streets on a white horse to save us. We have to start to save ourselves. We need after school programs we need to convince our people to remind them of the attitudes that we had when I was growing up in the 50s the blackest thing that you could do in the 1950s was to become an educated person. Getting it in school was another. A bullet shot in the heart of white racists. Becoming a doctor lawyer well being the hallmark of excellence in the black community by becoming a basketball player or a football player. Martin Luther King and Thurgood Marshall and the Thurgood Marshall were our heroes and Mary McRoberts too and people like that and not me. Aaron and Willie Mays as much as we provide them now and confuse their value to the future of our community with Dr. King
and attorney Thurgood Marshall. We have lost our way as a people we have internalized our own oppression and I let black leaders like I remember from ever end of the ideological spectrum whether it's Jesse Jackson and Sharpton are even Louis Farrakhan. No matter who it is we all have to unite on one thing that never races because you get pregnant when you're 60 no light races makes you do drugs no races makes you not do your homework and no right races makes you drop out of school. And if we continue to do those things as a people if we continue to say stupid things like recently inner city kids surveyed saying things white and that the three principal responses were getting straight A's in school speaking standard English and visiting the Smithsonian. If anyone had said anything like that we are going to 50. If your mother were to smack you upside your head and send you to a mental institution let's change attitudes among my own people.
The class divide within the black community and Martin Luther King did not die for that. Our guest is Henry Louis Gates Jr. He is chair of Harvard's African and African-American studies department. He's the author of a number of books including a new one that's the product of a series of interviews that he did with African-Americans across the country different walks of life people who are fortunate and people who are not. It's titled America behind the color line that's sort of the book form that's been put into it's all it's a the companion to a PBS documentary that will air I'm sure on all public television stations across the country and we're going to be showing the program early in February. Fact will be the first couple days for every third and forth between 8:00 and 10:00 that's on W while television and wherever you're listening whatever TV station public TV station is near you you check their listings if you're interested in the book America behind the color line published by Warner Books. He is in Chicago today and indeed will be speaking tonight at
7 o'clock at the disabled Museum of African-American history. So you might want to stop by. You're there in the Chicago area and of course questions are welcome. 3 3 3 9 4 5 5 here in Champaign Urbana toll free 800 to 2 2 9 4 5 5. We have a caller here Charleston we will go to. And that's our line for Hello. Yes thank you. I've lived through the arm 50s and 60s as a young person and then as I continued on I've heard the same things over and over again. The subjugation of blacks and other minorities in a capitalist culture will not change until we change the culture. And that can only be changed through revolutionary activity to overthrow old boys. To seize the means of production. I know I'm sounding like a Marxist but I am
I am sorry that you know a lifetime of listening and listening to folks who. And I remember Chicago radio in the old days I think some maybe a little time before 580 and I drove a truck at night and I listened to those things and until they were all expended and suddenly a change was on the horizon and Mr Kerner come along and showed it to lower class blacks who are worse off as well as lower class whites and Native Americans and other folks who've been through immigration or slavery however not got to the shore who stole this country from the Indians remorse and now Castro's clashes continuing upon their journey. Placement of everything on this globe including its peoples its natural resources and its money. They had money of it and if we dont change that basic ingredient ingredient then I am afraid that we are
doomed to these recurring waves often new young people and I know some and a few young black men in Chicago and have had dialogue with looks folk and understand that each of these new and accruing generations are fed the same top jobs you know but not from a faction which I agree with your guest today. But out those things that fit the subject would have went out of style and blacks would be then relegated to the out and to ghettos in the big cities. I feel like they pretty much still are. But it at least addressed the spirit of the situation. Well unless we do go to the bottom and take out all of that in trench to bring on everything I want to David Katz this past week was written a book about Mexico and three families and an adult when I have one in a single country. How many families on the mystery and you know I mean
we don't know but that leaves everybody else drowning in misery and poverty. You know land of plenty which is one of the anomalies of the 1930s. James Cannon observed that saying you know what is this. Well we don't need capitalism isn't really the bourgeois class are those who force their theatrics and their paradigm on the rest of us willingly or unwillingly. Let's get let's get a response from our guests and analysis of the color the question is can. The capitalist system should be reformed to accommodate the economic health of the African-American community. There's not going to be a Marxist revolution in the United States. I mean if there will be a shock to me and I think just about everyone else I don't think that that's going to happen I think that communism is dead as a door now and I don't want to read it to me. I mean I did not have such a great
system in the Soviet Union or in Cuba or in communist China. I mean it's not and I mean even China is abandoning communism as an economic system and I think that as the Bush watch he grows the demand for democracy will grow as well and certainly long overdue so we can't in my opinion about the respect of that very particular call. I don't like that image of the African-American community be the last Marxist in the western world. I don't think that's realistic what we have to do is humanize the face of capitalism. Franklin Raines the first black CEO of a Fortune 500 company Fannie Mae put it in a film series. If we have to have the same percentage of the black poor as the white poor the same percentage of the black rich as the white rich the same percentage of the black middle class black working class as a white middle class white working class and to do that we won't we need the program that I outlined we need a comprehensive jobs training program that creates meaningful jobs in a global i highly technological economy. We need school
reform we need an attitudinal reform. There's going to be a back of a class in any society there are always people rich in there. We need a much more humane system however so I heard yesterday on CNN 43 million people did not have health insurance in America. That's inexcusable and we should be ashamed of ourselves and that should be corrected. When I was at Cook County Jail I asked them the sort of the Sub-Warden who showed me around. How many people are in prison in this prison should be reassigned because of drug addiction and drug related problems. To a medical facility rather than prison. He said 70 percent and overwhelmingly black. Seventy percent of the prisoners should be in a medical facility. We need prison reform we need that urgently we need these things a new and better literacy training for both the mothers and the grandmothers
if they're in their 30s unweighted nice inner cities to generational job training programs literacy training programs reading programs computer training programs. But we cannot sit idly and wait for the Communist or a Marxist revolution because that's not happening and frankly I'm not one of the people who watch it happen. I want a more humane form of capitalism. I think that entrepreneurial spirit is ingrained in the human community I think we all thrive when we feel that we were rewarded for our hard work. I think there's nothing to be embarrassed about in fact just the opposite. We need more black entrepreneurs not less black entrepreneurs and that's why I don't know if you've had a chance to really learn Norful Lani's interview in my book or to see the film but she was a radical activist has started a sort of black entrepreneurial school in Bedford-Stuyvesant. Who have never been to Wall Street who have never seen the World Trade Center before they saw it being destroyed by the terrorists on TV are being trained in a troubled program to beat up kids who have fallen through the cracks in the school
system. He teaches them through performance theory to learn to walk the walk and talk the talk of Wall Street. If he is 100 percent placement. Great at getting them apprenticeships where Street firms after truck jumps when she addresses them on the first day she says the next three weeks I'm going to teach you how to be white. I'ma keep you out of Africa not actually crested I'm going to teach you how to tie a tie. I'm going to teach you how to wear a suit how to look white people in eyes and shake their hand how to perform it's a brilliant brilliant program and it's working marvelously and I feature that feature that among other meaningful programs for reform in the inner city. In my film series and in the book the very first conversation here that you have or the first. And as it's been presented kind of an essay for me is Colin Powell certainly you know probably about the most prominent in public life one of the most prominent African-Americans in the United States most prominent in history. Look at
that and what strikes me about this is as well he talks about the fact that he goes into when he does his doing his work wherever he goes. He says I walk into a room people see a black man but they also see the American secretary of state and they know that I'm not coming to them as a black man I'm coming to them as a representative of the American people. Right present I say so. And he it seems seems to be very clear about talking about what constitutes his identity and wasn't doesn't want his race to be the primary thing that constitutes his identity at the same time I guess I think about the kind of thing that I've heard often from African-Americans who who are trying to get across the point they say something like you know for me I can There may be many things that I that I am. But there's one thing that I'm always going to be and I can't not be and that is black. That's right. We say you know the expression of the larger American community had rid of Saddam you think that you pay taxes and die. Well I think you have to do it pay taxes and die and we say the three things you did it was you I would have to do
pay taxes stay black and die because you can't escape what Colin Powell says is I ask him specifically when you walk into a room and you'll see in the film says When You Walk Into A Room Sharon you're sitting there Arafat are sitting there and you're trying to broker peace in the Mideast. What's the first thing you guys when they look up from the table and say you were going to what's the first thing they see and he said they see me as a black man. But then they see I was the greatest. We need to make history of Bangkok and all the power the White House and the American flag. Even Colin Powell cannot escape being black none of us can and by the way I know Colin how he doesn't want to escape. Colin Powell to get down brother when Harry Belafonte accused him of being a house Negro It really was disgusting to me because Harry didn't know Colin and second it's just not true. He is a very very race conscious black man and if he goes on to say in that interview we have a special obligation which our white brothers and sisters don't necessarily have to the white poor the black successful members of the community have a
special historic and moral obligation to those who are are are left behind so I would say that this generation of the black middle class is keenly aware of race. And but it's also genuinely confused about what you do about the problems facing the inner city and and face it many people are nouveau riche. First generation they feel psychologically that they're one paycheck away from going back to the ghetto. Black people historically have not accumulated much wealth yet it takes a while to learn how to be generous to learn how to give back and I think that now the time has come for that. And that's what I'm on a campaign to try to do to generate and I'm not alone. The book and the series is divided into these major sections and I want to ask one about one of them and why it is that interest you that you say in the book you write the fact that maybe. The two the two biggest surprises about the collective behavior of members of the black middle class you say First
their deep and abiding embrace of black culture but the other thing is their desires and the desire of many to live in their own neighborhoods with other middle class black people and to do so in growing numbers back home in the south reverse night Gration Why do you think that that's such a significant phenomenon. Look at it that it's me. I mean first I think we should tell our listeners that the series is in four parts and one part is called Ebony towers about the new black middle class people like Colin Powell and Bernard Jordan blacks on Wall Street a very successful black people. One fights on opposite economic extremely inner city and it's called the streets of heaven and it's about the Southside of Chicago indeed it's about the Robert Taylor Homes and the nightmare existence there which led to their destruction as you know I think as of this morning there's only one building left of all of that the rate of high rises that existed from the 1960s one point from black Hollywood. And I wanted to see if Ken Zell and Halle Berry winning Academy Awards spelled the end of racism and I would answer is No. It's
not but one part is as you just said. On the curious phenomenon of six that's a Black people middle upper middle class black people moving from the north and the west back to the south. Now this is a trend that began in the 80s but really took off in the 1990s and Atlanta is the Mecca for the new black middle class and these people are moving from white neighborhoods to our black neighborhood to million dollar homes all Black Country Clubs all black swimming pools all black fraternal organizations. It's astonishing our black churches you could look for it. You could look from now until doomsday and black literature and black or culture black music you not find you'll find a villian song saying follow the North Star follow the drinking gourd the drinking gourd was a metaphor for the Big Dipper and of course a goblin or star go north. You know escape the fat Southern racism but you will not find one that says black people find your freedom an alibi. Am I missing. Leave New York
rebought and leave Chicago and go back home. But that's what's happening I think a part of the King came back to the grave you'd be astonished if that's what's happening eg if the movement is the reverse and it be the black people are insisting on the right to live in their own communities and so I ask in the film series this would but again approve of this. Would you find it ironic that I do a great interview with Maya Angelou in her home in Atlanta and she had a couple homes one in Winston-Salem North Carolina one in Atlanta and she said black people are coming out of exile. But in effect we had been in exile from our true home in the south for 90 years since migration started 90 plus years and now we have the self-confidence the economic where with all the means to return to our native grounds and I do a great interview with Morgan Freeman at the beginning of that film. And Morgan Freeman who's so wealthy and so successful I mean has managed. President and God so I guess you can't beat that for a A-list roles. Morgan Freeman lives in Mississippi you can live
in Bel-Air or Beverly Hills or wherever else he wanted to live and you live and it's an place in Mississippi and I talk to him about why he would do that when I go to those homes by way of Memphis and Birmingham I go to Atlanta and I go to be a very very wealthy black neighborhood and I actually interview people and they say we want a cultural comfort of living with other black people we want our children to see eye to role models teacher Well one of the people I interviewed said I wanted to move in a black neighborhood and not have the property values go down. And every all of us can understand that it was. It's the difference between enforced segregation in the 60s and 50s and historically in America which is what de jure segregation was all about and willing association the right to live with other people now people people said no white people can move and I would be at the head of the march protesting their own racism. But you know they're very wide open about white people moving in if white people want to move in but I think they see white people coming to this neighborhood looking to buy a home and
they're in the neighborhood and then driving around and they look at the swimming pool they see everybody black and they look at the front lawn they see everybody black when they they look at the barbecues in the backyard they say everybody black and I said what he did and he said they press their foot on the accelerator and get the hell out. The neighborhood so maybe that the neighborhoods are all black because of the residues which still exist of course of white racism. Well given just raises this question my mind given the fact that African-Americans have been the most reliable constituency for the Democratic Party and given the fact that over the last several decades we've seen a real swing in the south from the dominance of Democrats dumps of Republicans. If we have middle class African-Americans moving in significant or perspective the South does does that do the numbers. Are they significant enough to have any kind of noticeable impact on the political character of these of the South. Well the black the seven states are full of black people anyway our problem our problem is that black people don't vote. I went I wanted to do a piece for The New Yorker a
couple years ago and never finished. But come to think about I want to do that. I went around asking prominent white people if you were black. Well the first thing you do save your people and my next door neighbor was John Kenneth Galbraith family next. When I asked him what would you do and he said Get your people to vote. I said I would get my people of if you would vote in proportion to your numbers you would have a hell of a lot of strength if we voted we would really have political clout. But we don't vote. There are 35 million African Americans. So imagine how many of our voting age and we don't vote. And if we voted and then made the political partners party beg us for our vote earn our vote instead of just being blindly loyal to the Democratic Party but then you know and what choice that we have given the Republican I mean to put Republican presidents from redaction that its for the black vote. You know forget it. I mean we're not going to go that way. But if we voted they would have to modify their policies in order to earn the black vote and that would produce a dramatic
effect. So Russell Simmons who's also in the film Russell Simmons is leading a voter registration drive using all the tools at his considerable disposal. And I hope that it's effective because that would be essential to transforming our position within the American citizenry. We have a caller to talk within still and that's a Wonderbra for a long time. Yes. Good morning David and back to Kate. Good morning. I've greatly appreciated your lack of it the years and especially that movie series and when you went to Africa. Thank you. I had a couple of comments bouncing off of a previous caller who spoke of a certain communist ideals and I have to say and my and my. I don't want to say cryptic to you. After years of living and living life I agree with that
communist principles. I mean people have entered ideal and that have a profit centered ideals. To me that is the main difference. Now not that we would want a communist system because they they became as corrupted as any other system. It is bad but you know if we look at what is better for the greater good of the people then we would have to think differently I think. I don't know if you're aware that in the desert of the United States there remained today a certain vestige of the CCC program where certain parts of the desert are now covered with greenery because of. This is where when they put the young man to work who have no other work that you know they built infrastructure they built the highways and bridges and I think our national parks that we have today were mostly be off by the TTC write
federal programs for the unemployed in the 1930s. Yeah we need those people to be employed and we also need that data start to bloom and we need you know road improvements and things like that its not that doesn't seem to be answering anyone else's care that that those are possibilities that would be valuable for the whole culture. We did thinking of profit job training job training job training for what for McDonald's. I mean I think for Nergal training yes that would be valuable to be meaningful job training training with you know what about that that so often and the mind of the teacher Rabbi ban and the life of the student good sure but what you're describing could very well be part of this comprehensive jobs program as it were. I heard you say why could it work again after so little will win among the Republicans to do that. No well whatsoever that's why the Democratic Party and those of us who love
justice and equality and freedom have to insist on those kind of programs being resurrected again and not only it's ridiculous like with Bush and company talking about this marriage bill. Billions of dollars and people get married. Why because you're homophobic. Because there's some homophobic that they want to defend the institution of marriage they say by investing billions of dollars put up billions of dollars put those billions of dollars into a jobs program the kind of thing that you're talking about. Let's put our people to work. Give them an investment in their own future and in the system again that is the only way to go so I would reach out where they don't have I mean to think if if all the places that ran down like that are existing in America today and if they had trees being planted or things being dealt. Yeah it would rain for everybody. The people who live in the inner city don't want to live in those conditions. I've never met one person who loves being poor. It looks like they just don't know how to get out and that's what we have to help them find out.
Yeah thank you so much. Thank you. Thank you other questions are welcome here in Champaign Urbana 3 3 3 9 4 5 5. Toll free 800 to 2 2 9 4 5 5. Our guest in this part of focus 580 Henry Louis Gates Jr. is chair of Harvard's African and African-American studies department. His new book it's titled America behind the color line it's published by Warner Books It is a companion to a PBS documentary that will be airing on our television station in early February. This is February 3rd and 4th from 8 to 10 W I L L television and I'm sure a lot of other public stations as well. 3 3 3 9 4 5 5 toll free 800 to 2 2 9 4 5 5. I'm interested because part of the section does have to do with Hollywood and images of African-Americans popular culture. Well earlier this week I had the chance to talk with Charles Burnett who was here visiting the campus as well for people who. You know about film or write about cinema. Say one of the things that they
say about him is he may be America's greatest unknown director because people are not familiar with his his work even though it has been critically acclaimed and some some of the films have have gotten some attention like to sleep with anger which is what a lot of people think may be his his best movie and he's continuing it continuing to work and his work is out there but you know we talked a lot about his his interest in telling stories about real people and their real daily lives and wanting to project a certain kind of image of black Americans and the African-American family just how difficult it has been to try to be able to tell those kinds of stories. And I guess the question I'm going out here is is what role do you think images of African-Americans in popular culture play both for you know the way African-Americans think of themselves but also about how how
other Americans think about black Americans. Well I think that we used to think of only we could get some positive role models on TV or in film it would immediately transform white attitudes sort of black people. But do you know. But you know what the number one show in the 80s wasn't and white apartheid South Africa. Let's put the number one TV show. I don't know. I with the cards B show. That's an irony for you isn't it. Yeah Alibhai race becomes thank God if I were Africans would just like Bill and Claire have any problems with having probs. So it's a lot more complex than that when one might think but it is very important to see a wide range of roles for black people obviously things are much better now would now than they were in the days of Butterfly McQueen playing that you know that no brain made in Gone With The Wind or mammy you know gets Academy Awards for playing mammy reinforcing stereotypes about black women. Well Willie
Baxter Stepin Fetchit obviously things are much better but then they're not where they should be. In fact in my film theory there are two things that are totally startling to me. The first is that Hollywood is still color struck. What's that mean. I interviewed Brown what we call brown brown skinned actresses be good be actresses I mean they're bad just means they don't make as much money as say Halle Berry and Denzel. So I go on a Sunday afternoon to one apartment about 30 people there most of her black women beautiful beautiful people and they say they cannot get the top part because they're not light complected like how dare you. I kind of lean into Lena one look and I said Is it true black directors and producers there are only white directors and producers. They think it's true of black and white producers wet black men a broken through or dark complected black women have not. So there's still that residue of racism and then I interview the great producer the 9 mil son one of the most powerful people in Hollywood. One of the few people that actually
greenlight a film in The Times in Malibu next door to David Geffen self and I said I'm done. Teach me about the economics of race at the box office. He said OK this is the example. Jodie Foster stars in Panic Room but say it makes a hundred million dollars I said OK. He said if I catch Halle Berry in the same part the film would have only made 50 million dollars because white people are not interested in seeing a black woman enter son being terrorized by burglars. I said why and he said well because the heroin for the average American is to grow next door in the Girl Next Door blonde hair blue eyed is a cheerleader. She is not a Mexican she does not have an accent and she is definitely not black. I said OK that's all but let's go on what I said what about the perfect love story script and what cast Denzel and Halle they got Academy Awards big box office hits he said. Right. To get 20 million dollars a film I say good for them. He said Yeah but there's one small problem I said what. The film
would only generate 50 million dollars. That means this film will never be made because nobody would make any profit. I said All right let's cancel Russell Crowe with Halle Berry in the same film the same script he said Eureka. It will make you a debate of dollars maybe 300 million dollars because people love to see that kind of voyeuristic racial race crossing when it's a white male and a black woman but you notice Denzel never sleeps with his white hair once never. But that film with Julia Roberts and all the brothers in a thing called war dead you know. I hope you finally get over brother. They basically shake hands and they walk away in the history of Hollywood. No two leading characters who are that intimate do not end up in bed together and let it Denzel Washington and a white woman. This is still a function it's not a function of the producers and directors in Hollywood it's a function of the racism out there that's determining the box office because it is true as I say in the film the most important call and I would scream they
got so big a film about anything if they. Benefit if it will make money. Having had no ideological bias they do not care. They care about money. We have about maybe five six minutes left we have. Suddenly we have a number of callers and we and I'm sure we will be able to get all of them but will try to get one or two. Next in line is in Champaign County Line one that oh yeah since you're talking about films the Afro-American research program here showed a film by astonishingly Roger Corman that was made in 62 and lost money it's called the intruder and it's a dramatization of the integration of a school and I'm still recovering from it it's amazing moment. I don't think it was shown on Mystery Science Theater recently and lampooned which is really outrageous. I guess they saw the Roger Corman name on it and William Shatner is plays a fascist and it comes down to agitate the first outside agitator I guess but I don't recommend it. Oh yeah I was just I was actually for but but I wanted to cry about was sort of when you were talking him
to the woman earlier about CCC and that kind of thing. Yes. It helps Bush just cut all of the job training and then announces you know a third of what he cut and then goes and stomps on it and nobody nobody claims that I know and then he announced to be compassionate conservative to nonces money space based money for a prison you know the battered wretches mainly to be it's callous and nobody is pointing that out either. I know we have a failure a breakdown the leadership don't talk about the black leadership as well as white like you know he's the money that the space based money he seeing as a way of shoring up his black Republican vote. Absolutely and I mean it's but it's you can always appeal to black people through God through Jesus but on the other hand black people and are still black and we still are voting overwhelmingly for the Democratic president and I do not think that George Bush is going
to basically get double digit inroads into the African-American community when the margin is this close though he is what he peels. Doctors more important than anything else. It's absolute sync and it's a big thing and I agree with you it was disgusting for him not to go to monitor King's grave which he did on Dr. King's birthday I plodded there but then the next day to a point that the judge who had such a mix wouldn't Pickering Judge Pickering to be true to use his power to appoint him after the you know congressional session was over. Well the thing that was almost like saying to all of you write about me becoming too liberal by going to Dr. King was great don't worry I'm still one of you it was so callous and it was as callous symbolically and the cutback in the jobs program was economically and just disgusting and we did I hope that a strong Democrat emerges from this. So if you're cured and that we can unite behind
one particular charismatic morally based leader who cares about compassion cares about the maximum degree of social and economic justice for for the average American and that's not what we have in the Bush administration. Never before in my time at least. Have you seen the interest of corporate America. So nakedly represented and defended a band we're seeing today in the White House and it's if not it's not right. Let's go to Urbana line to hello. Hi good morning gentlemen good morning. I work with. I have worked with the public school system and the connection I written are among the women in question and cared for and proud of all you know it and I have it. I guess that reflects on children what you mean or what you mean as traitors and
yeah yeah I mean you know like in most schools in the area the majority of the teachers are crying you know and like I was working in a barnacle program I'm bilingual and you know I mean how do I deal. How do you deal with those kind of thing you know wonder what the structure of that was that bad that people are color are losing their dignity their their knowledge isn't recognized you know and taken into consideration like that you know I would working together with another creature over that you're welcome. Very few teachers are their interest as a second language. Rahman doesn't speak second language only speaks English and she's teaching English to let me know students and I was the bilingual preacher I'm bilingual and back when the new program was being created for for the next year I
would completely on that from the process you know and. Right up the barrel you know I don't think you can get help on any any instance of racism I mean is still state human rights commission so you could call them in you mean you couldn't file reports on documented discrimination and I would encourage you to do that because we don't need to. We've come too far. You don't have to suffer like this. If you think the racist treatment in so I would encourage you to look into the various agencies that you could complain to. I mean there have to be mechanisms for you to file your grievance and I would encourage you to do that. I'm going to have to jump in. My apologies to the caller and to the last two we're just going to have to stop because we used our time to bed and I really appreciate you giving us some of your time and I know you're traveling and you're in Chicago and have been doing speaking and so forth so I'm glad you could spend the hour with us. I would have been a lot of Champaign-Urbana. Great thank you. Will she come see us sometime.
Focus 580
America Behind the Color Line: Dialogues With African Americans
Producing Organization
WILL Illinois Public Media
Contributing Organization
WILL Illinois Public Media (Urbana, Illinois)
If you have more information about this item than what is given here, or if you have concerns about this record, we want to know! Contact us, indicating the AAPB ID (cpb-aacip-16-dr2p55dv0k).
With Henry Louis Gates, Jr. (Chair of Harvard's African and African-American Studies Department)
Broadcast Date
Talk Show
Racism; Race/Ethnicity; community
Media type
Embed Code
Copy and paste this HTML to include AAPB content on your blog or webpage.
Guest: Gates, Henry Louis
Producer: Brighton, Jack
Producing Organization: WILL Illinois Public Media
AAPB Contributor Holdings
Illinois Public Media (WILL)
Identifier: cpb-aacip-df7f34e0606 (unknown)
Generation: Copy
Duration: 51:17
Illinois Public Media (WILL)
Identifier: cpb-aacip-378739d340c (unknown)
Generation: Master
Duration: 51:17
If you have a copy of this asset and would like us to add it to our catalog, please contact us.
Chicago: “Focus 580; America Behind the Color Line: Dialogues With African Americans,” 2004-01-23, WILL Illinois Public Media, American Archive of Public Broadcasting (GBH and the Library of Congress), Boston, MA and Washington, DC, accessed August 12, 2022,
MLA: “Focus 580; America Behind the Color Line: Dialogues With African Americans.” 2004-01-23. WILL Illinois Public Media, American Archive of Public Broadcasting (GBH and the Library of Congress), Boston, MA and Washington, DC. Web. August 12, 2022. <>.
APA: Focus 580; America Behind the Color Line: Dialogues With African Americans. Boston, MA: WILL Illinois Public Media, American Archive of Public Broadcasting (GBH and the Library of Congress), Boston, MA and Washington, DC. Retrieved from